Faced with the Welsh, a character victory for the Blues

Good fortune must end up changing sides. How many confrontations in recent years with these Welsh devils, who remain uncertain for a long time, and play nothing in favor of the XV of Leek? A single victory for the Blues over the last nine oppositions, not the least success in Cardiff for ten years and a Grand Slam 2010 long lost in the memories of French rugby, it was far too much, certainly.

The victory of a state of mind

This is in any case what dared to think for a few days these young white-billed XV of France, swearing to make no complex against Welshmen displaying almost four times more selections than them (859 against 254 for holders ). The unconscious even said they were in a hurry to go test their strength of character. Lady! This young generation has guts. And she worked to demonstrate this, Saturday February 22, for this third game of the benchmark VI Nations Tournament. On arrival, a third success in a row in the competition (27-23), the certainty of having crossed a milestone there, and of course, the pride of having been up to expectations this time, after years of vain hope.

“It’s the state of mind that made us win again”, commented Captain Charles Olivon after the meeting. “We play with our heart, with our guts”, added the opening half Romain Ntamack. Effectively. These Blues left on the meadow a crazy energy, showed a defensive aggressiveness of all times, even reduced by twice to 14, a riot of solidarity which this time did not die out at the end of the game. Until the end the Welsh have given up nothing. But until the end the Blues held the shock. What was probably missing until then in the XV of France, feverish or too just physically in the last quarter of an hour.

On the way to a Grand Slam?

No drop in diet this time. The fellows of Fabien Galthié learned from their defensive wanderings against the Italians to tighten the lines. With the exception of winger Teddy Thomas, once again missing out on his match, all the Blues made an impeccable defensive copy, sometimes just bordering on excessive precipitation by attacking the opponent and multiplying the faults which have long allowed the Welsh to stay in the game. But the main thing was there: in this capacity to resist, but not only. The Blues also remained lucid to score three tries, including two opportunists from the rear Anthony Bouthier and Romain Ntamack.

“The players pulled out the match, could congratulate coach Fabien Galthié. It’s hell here, but it’s also magic. And we got what we are looking for: emotions “. And the possibility of dreaming ever higher, with perhaps even, if in the momentum these Blues have Scotland on March 8, a Grand Slam in the crosshairs against Ireland at the Stade de France on March 14. Who would have bet it only three months ago?

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Defense of XV de France to Welsh developer

The story looked promising. Told in all the gazettes, even before the start of the Tournament. The story of Shaun Edwards, the new star in coaching the Blues. The man capable of building the ramparts of the XV of France, and for good reason: it is he, the inventor of the famous “rush defense”, the ultimate in modern rugby when it comes to pulverizing the best wills attackers, with a line of hungry who rise as a single man to attack the opposing ball carriers. A brand registered by the Englishman in the early 2000s when he led the Wasps team, four times English champion and twice European champion (in 2004 and 2007). Then operated by the technician for eleven years with the selection of Wales as assistant from 2008.

The Welsh miracle

A skill more than validated in the field. In early 2008, the Welsh were in distress, eliminated a few months earlier from the group stage of the World Cup by Fiji. Their main weakness: defense. Shaun Edwards takes matters into his own hands. And the red devils finish the Tournament by beating France (29-12) to win their tenth Grand Slam. All while barely taking two tries in five games. A record.

Since then, the Welsh have always been experts at laying barbed wire on the spot. Only three tries against them for their 2012 Grand Slam. Same price for their success in the 2013 Tournament. During their last Grand Slam, in 2019, the Welsh have conceded seven tries. But the team still displays the best defense of the edition. Thanks WHO ? Shaun Edwards, of course.

The expert seems to have written a very similar first chapter with the Blues. An immediate victory over the English on February 2 (24-17), built precisely on an almost exemplary defense. There are 93 successful tackles, exciting aggressiveness and collective thoroughness. Enough to boast the “Edwards effect” on more customary Blues, in the matter, artistic blur.

The new XV of France offers England

Except that … During the second match, against Italy, the copy is much more muddled. The Blues continue well with a new success (35-22), but the Transalpins visit three times the three-color end. It’s a lot. Especially since the comparison with the Welsh is severe: a week earlier, the latter had hardly opened the door for the Italians, crushed 42-0!

Lack of strategic maturity

So what ? A bit exaggerated, the Edwards effect? “Perhaps we have communicated too much around this rush defense, which like all systems has its advantages and disadvantages, said Pierre Villepreux, the former master of the Blues in the 1990s. Above all, it requires perfect collective execution, which is not obvious when it comes to adapting quickly. This is more about intelligence than strict application of a scheme. ” Still very young, these Blues can hardly find the magic formula in a few weeks of training, as demanding as it may be. “This defense is based on an enormous relationship of trust between the players, especially in situations in motion, observe the former scrum half of the Blues Richard Astre. This team still lacks strategic maturity, it must be given more time. “

The fellows are aware of this and also avoid being won over by the sweet euphoria of their provisional first place in the Tournament. “In defense, there are a lot of things to work on”, recognizes the hooker Julien Marchand. The Welsh are right on time this Saturday, February 22 to gauge the ability of these Blues to hold the shock, and this, for the entire match. “If we only play 50 or 60 minutes, it can’t do it, warns the third row Grégory Alldritt, still at the heart of the fight during the first two meetings. It’s going to be a nightmare because it’s a team that puts a lot of aggressiveness, which fights on all balls. “

It is on this kind of match, which is more outside, that this new XV of France will be able to measure its strength of character. This force that Shaun Edwards can apply to transmit but that the players still have to appropriate. Lethal weapon, rush defense? As long as you don’t confuse speed with precipitation.

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